Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Appreciating Cultural Differences in the Workplace

In today’s global workplace, you will most likely come into contact with people of various cultural backgrounds—whether co-workers, customers, or suppliers. As you encounter multicultural work environments or situations, it is important to be respectful and open to understanding the cultural differences of the individuals you meet. The following tips will help you do so:
  • Respect and value individual perspectives: Cultural differences or not, it is simply a good idea to respect other individuals. When working with someone from a different cultural background, assume he or she may have different ideas and approaches than you. Prepare for this by reminding yourself to be respectful and open to the value and unique perspective this person brings to the workplace.
  • Get cultured: Educate yourself about the culture of a co-worker, client, or supplier, particularly if you have regular business interactions with this person. You may discover a host of things—from what certain gestures communicate, like a bowed head or type of handshake, to what religious holidays are commonly celebrated.
  • Pronounce names correctly: Even if you’re unfamiliar with how to pronounce the names of people you meet from various cultural backgrounds, take the time to learn. This will be viewed and appreciated as a sign of respect.
  • Ask for clarification: Communication can be a challenge when certain words or phrases don’t translate well or take on a different meaning in one culture versus another. Strong accents can also be a barrier to clear communication. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something, and encourage others to do so with you. And remember to steer clear of slang terms and industry jargon.
  • Avoid over-stereotyping: Although stereotypes can help provide a general idea about a culture, you should take the time to get to know each person as an individual.
  • Avoid using cultural jokes: It is best to avoid using any cultural jokes, as there is a great risk that the joke could come off as offensive.

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